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Charlotte Wood shares her personal experiences of mantrailing and why she recommends everyone should give it a go.
How did you find out about mantrailing?
I noticed some friends Mantrailing with their dogs on a Facebook post by House of Hound in Huddersfield. I had never heard of Mantrailing before and I didn’t know what it was but it looked interesting. So, I asked about it, did some research and thought that sounds like fun!
Why did you decide to try it?
There were a few reasons I decided to try Mantrailing. I began with Monty, he was only 5 months old at the time and being a working lab and poodle cross, he is a very active dog. However, I am acutely aware of not giving him too much exercise (or too many long walks) while he is still growing. I had considered other dog sports for him but none were really suited to a dog still in their growth phase.
I already knew types of scent work were a good way to mentally tire a dog without overexerting them physically; we use snuffle mats at mealtimes, scatter feeding and play games of ‘find it’ at home and on walks. I figured Mantrailing was another great way to use Monty’s sense of smell and to challenge him mentally but through a low impact activity.
With Monty being a ‘puppy of 2020’ he hasn’t had as much socialisation as we would have liked so again Mantrailing interested us as it was an opportunity for me to meet new people, Monty to get used to being around new people and dogs and for us both to explore some new environments.
The idea of trying something new and having a new hobby really appealed to me and what is better than a new hobby with your dog?!
I enjoyed Mantrailing with Monty so much we also introduced Oscar to the game.
What is mantrailing exactly?
Mantrailing is the ultimate game of hide and seek with the aim being for you and your dog to find the hidden person.
The dog’s role is to use his or her sense of smell to detect and follow the hidden person’s scent; every person leaves a scent wherever they go. This is not the fragrance that might remind you of your granny, for example, it’s a scent a human is not able to detect; as we just don’t have a good enough sense of smell. Dogs, however, have an incredible sense of smell, Mantrailing harnesses this skill – that every dog possesses – and uses it to play a fun game!
The role of the dog handler is to instruct the dog to sniff the hidden person’s scent article (this is something the person has had on their body such as a sock or a face mask and allows the dog to understand which trail they need to follow), to follow the dog using a harness and longline, to ensure the dog remains safe and to celebrate with the dog when they find the hidden person. I always feel so proud when Monty finds someone and he laps up the praise (and the food reward) from me and the hidden person.
When you first start Mantrailing with your dog you attend an introductory workshop and this is about teaching the dog the game, so the distances they trail are short and they are allowed to see the hidden person run away. This gives them a visual clue as to which direction they need to go to find the person. When they find the hidden person they get lots of praise and a super tasty reward – or a toy depending on what motivates the individual dog. Once your dog understands the game you can begin attending training sessions and start to make it a little harder; you might not allow the dog to see the person running away, you may start to make the trailing distances a bit longer or the trailing conditions a bit harder (such as introducing decoys or using more open-spaces, for example).
Done correctly you can always set the dog up to succeed and therefore be rewarded for their work, adding to the enjoyment for the dog and strengthen the bond between dog and owner.
The great thing about Mantrailing is you are only competing against your last trail, so you can work towards improving your and your dog’s skills by working through the Mantrailing UK Levels if you want to (you don’t have to) but you aren’t competing against other dogs or dog handlers as you might be in other dog sports – such as agility or flyball, for example. Mantrailing is also one of the most inclusive dog sports as it doesn’t matter if your dog is reactive or doesn’t like other dogs as the dogs are always worked one at a time. Monty gets so excited about trailing he barks quite a lot but that’s fine as everybody there understands dogs will be dogs – I never feel any judgement that my dog is making a racket! It doesn’t matter if your dog doesn’t have very good recall as they will always be on a longline when they trail. Working as a team with your dog can help to build their confidence if they are a little nervous. It really is one of the most inclusive hobbies you can find for both dogs and owners.
The benefits of Mantrailing are it mentally tires the dog, Monty always sleeps like a baby after a few trails. Physically it is not demanding on the dogs joint and bones but the intense sniffing that is involved raises the dog’s heart rate and so it feels like great exercise. We’re both tired but happy after a morning of Mantrailing and fresh air.
How often do you do it?
We Mantrail as often as we can, but with the current Covid19 restrictions we have struggled to do it regularly. However, that doesn’t really matter, this is a hobby that you could do weekly or infrequently and you and your dog will still enjoy the game.
Why has it been good for you and Monty?
Mantrailing has been great for the bond between me and Monty while it has allowed us to meet some lovely people and awesome dogs, too. I have loved meeting other dogs and hearing about their story – some were rescue dogs, some were puppies and others were dogs that started Mantrailing when they were much older. Every breed of dog can Mantrail. My favourite dog to hide from has probably been a chocolate lab as she was so happy when she found me! We’ve met Cockerpoos, Border Collies, Boxers, Dalmatians, Spaniels, German Shepherds, Crossbreeds – there really is no breed prejudice.
At Monty’s introductory workshop there were dogs ranging from a Golden Retriever, a Spaniel and a Miniature Daschund and they were all brilliant. They all took to the game straight away. It actually took a few sessions for Monty to get the game, until this point he was only motivated to find me but then one day, it just seemed to click and now he absolutely loves to find anyone; there is no holding him back when he gets on the scent! I have to work hard to handle the longline and keep up (we’re working on him being a bit calmer!) so it feels like great exercise for me too. Although don’t be put off if you yourself are not that physically fit or able as the aim is actually for your dog to follow the trail with precision not speed hence why we are working on slowing Monty down, so as the trails get harder he doesn’t lose the scent by going too fast!
I won’t ever get tired of the buzz we get from Mantrailing!
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